The Illusion of Authenticity

Authenticity is a frustrating topic to talk about in the church world. It is now a buzzword—like “relevant” has been for the last decade.

You can’t not talk about it because it’s a word that comes up again and again when you ask people what they’re looking for in a church.

At the same time, to deem it a strategy, or even a value, seems to defeat the purpose. The minute you try for authenticity, you immediately run the risk of ruining it.

A parallel that occurred to me recently comes from the world of design. Lately, I’ve seen a trend toward handwritten lettering. Particularly popular right now, especially with churches, is the brush cursive look.

I am a sucker for this look myself. Some of my favorite creatives—people like Mike Birbiglia and Brad Montague—use hand lettering throughout their work. Mike is a comedian who tells very personal stories as part of his shows. One of his earliest projects was called “My Secret Public Journal,” in which he read from his personal journal.

You might remember Brad from a recent episode of the Art of the Sermon podcast. He wrote and produced all of the Kid President YouTube videos with his young brother-in-law Robby. The handwritten graphics made total sense, as it fit with the simple, handmade cardboard Oval Office set.

The work of both of these guys clearly comes from the heart. Part of why they make such an impact on and form deep connections with audiences is because they truly are authentic. It isn’t an act. They show us who they are, share their perspective, and invite us to join in the journey.

During my interview with Brad, he shared that for a short time, they worked on a Kid President television show. The production company recreated everything for the show as a set, including Robby’s bedroom. They also recreated Brad’s handwriting as a font.

You can audibly hear Brad cringe. It just felt wrong. All he and Robby wanted to do was hang out, have fun, make videos, and challenge the world to be more awesome. This facade just wasn’t them. Even the handwriting was fake.

This is the issue I think churches run into the most. Instead of stripping away the things that stand in the way of authenticity, we try to create it—often forcing it.

And people can feel it. They know.

Because all we have really created is the illusion of authenticity.

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